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Idaville was a small town much like every other small town in America. It had two supermarkets, a bowling alley, a fire station, three schoolhouses, a brothel, a bank, two churches and a synagogue. The thing that made Idaville special was that no criminal ever escaped justice. Every skate thief was caught, every lost marble was recovered and every grade-school lunch money protection racket was cracked. Most people credited Idaville's perfect record to Police Chief Brown. What most people didn't know was that Chief Brown was an overpaid, donut munching hack who got the job because he was friends with the Mayor. His twelve-year-old son Leroy solved all of Idaville's crimes and mysteries. This was really unfair because Chief Brown got the pay-check and didn't even give Leroy a decent allowance.
Nobody except Leroy's parents and his teachers called him Leroy. Everyone else in Idaville called him Encyclopedia -- except for the cafeteria lady at school, who called him "Sugar Lips." An encyclopedia is a book or a collection of books with a whole lot of neat information about things you never need to know. "Sugar Lips" is a term of endearment.
Most days, Encyclopedia would spend the afternoon in the garage. Not because he was some kind of mechanic or anything, but because this was where he had set up his detective office. His mom was sort of irritated about that, because that meant that she had to park on the street and birds kept leaving gifts on her windshield, but what could she do? She still owed Encyclopedia for the time he trailed Chief Brown to see why he worked late so many evenings.
Encyclopedia's sign hung out in front of the garage.
Encyclopedia was sitting in the garage with Sally Kimball, his junior partner and the prettiest girl in the Fifth grade. They were just sitting there. That's all that they were doing. Encyclopedia was worried because business had been slow lately, and Dad was asking for the rent on the garage again.
And then she walked in.
She was a skinny little nine-year-old. The summer sun shone off her braces, bathing her in a soft glow. Encyclopedia's eyes fell to the scabs on her knees. "Watch it," said Sally.
"My name is Betsy Keane. I need to hire you," she said, fishing into the pocket of her cut-off jeans and dropping a quarter on the gas can. I'm having Tiger trouble."
"Tigers? In Idaville?" Encyclopedia wondered out loud. "Did one escape from the Idaville Zoo?" Encyclopedia had once proven that Pete Fredricks, the zookeeper, was a drunkard who liked to let animals lose just for thrills. Fredricks hated Encyclopedia, and had sworn that one day he would sic an elephant on him.
"Not that kind of tiger," said Betsy. "Tigers' is the name of the boys' gang that Bugs Meany founded to terrorize the neighborhood." Bugs Meany was the biggest and meanest of the Tigers. Encyclopedia had had many dealings with Bugs.
"What has Bugs done this time?" said Encyclopedia, visions of stolen skates dancing in his head.
"Is he trying to frame you for breaking your parents' window?" asked Sally hopefully.
"No," replied Betsy.
"Did he try to swindle you out of your baseball cards?" asked Encyclopedia
Betsy shook her head. She looked scared.
"Did he try to steal your tent?" asked Sally.
"Well then, what's the problem with Bugs?" asked Encyclopedia, puzzled.
Betsy paused. "He's lying dead in front of my treehouse. His brains have been blown out. I'm no expert, but it looks like he was shot by a semi-automatic."
Outside, it began to rain.
"Did you call the police?" asked Encyclopedia.
"Of course not. Everybody knows that you run this town," said Sally.
"Well," said Encyclopedia, eyeing the quarter, "what exactly do you want me to do."
Betsy smiled. "Bugs stole my Teddy Bear. I want it back."
Encyclopedia looked her in the eye. "You realize, of course, this makes you a suspect"
"Get serious, Encyclopedia," said Sally. I've known Betsy for years. She could never kill Bugs Meany. Not with a semi-auto-matic, anyway. She could barely lift one, let alone fire it. You're just trying to avoid leg-work"
"Take me to the body," said Encyclopedia.
Betsy's treehouse was in her backyard, facing away from the house. Encyclopedia had to admire the workmanship that had gone into it It had a roof, a rope ladder and everything. At the bottom of the tree lay Bugs Meany. Bugs' felt Tiger's cap was stained crimson. The summer rain had mingled with his blood to form watered-down pools in the grass. Little pieces of him were strewn across the backyard. It was as if someone had dynamited a jigsaw puzzle of Bugs' face. The gunfire appeared to have shattered his skull, and what was left of his brain was clinging to the tree. His Tigers T-shirt was riddled with bullet holes and soaked with blood. "He's dead all right," said Encyclopedia.
"It's a shame Bugs is dead," said Sally. "I always hated the thieving crook, but you have to admit that he was good for business."
"I suspect foul play," said Encyclopedia. He picked up an empty shell cartridge that lay on the ground by Bugs' feet. "He was probably shot at close range."
"I agree," said Sallyo "And judging from that cartridge, I'd say that the weapon was a 6.5mm Mannlicher-Carcano rifle, the same gun that Oswald used on the Kennedy hit. It's an old make, but if you pop some armor-piercing bullets in one of those babies you can shoot through over eighteen inches of concrete."
"How did you know that?" asked Encyclopedia.
"I'm the NRA," said Sally. "We're lobbying to keep those babies legal for hunting purposes."
"Why did Bugs come to your tree house?" Encyclopedia asked.
"He said he had my teddy bear and I could have it back if I paid him a dollar as a 'Finder's Fee'," said Betsy. "He says he found it, but I knew all along he stole it. Anyway, he told me he'd come by my tree house around lunch time. I was still inside eating my peanut butter and jelly sandwich when I heard the gunfire. When I was done eating I came out and found his body, but no Teddy Bear." Various insects had closed in and begun to feed on Bugs' corpse.
"Well," said Encyclopedia, "whoever killed Bugs has your Teddy Bear."
'Don't worry, Betsy," said Sally. "We will find your Teddy Bear. When you hire Encyclopedia Brown, you get satisfaction, guaranteed. If he can't solve the case you get your whole quarter back"
Encyclopedia thought for a moment. "Did you see anyone by your tree house today around the time you heard the shots?"
Betsy scrunched up her face, trying to remember. "Well, now that you mention it, I do remember seeing someone who looked kinda like Lloyd Ditka riding away on what looked kinda like Lloyd's ten-speed holding something that looked sorta like a smoking gun...but I can't be sure." Lloyd Ditka was the leader of the Ferrets, the Tigers' rival gang. They were having a turf war over who got to hang out at the malt shop.
"This is just a hunch," said Encyclopedia, "but I think if we go visit Lloyd Ditka, we may very well found the crook who has your bear."
"What are we waiting for?" said Sally. "Let's go."
The Ferrets' clubhouse was located in an abandoned fallout shelter, which had been previously used by 'My Country: Right, Wrong, or Incoherent," a radical McCarthyite group which disbanded shortly after Encyclopedia proved that the fluoride in the drinking water was actually harmless, and even helped prevent cavities.
On the front of the clubhouse was a sign which read, "FERRETS SEKRET CLUBHOUSE. KEEP OUT...OR DIE. HELP WANTED. SADISTIC MIND A PLUS. INQUIRE WITHIN."
Lloyd Ditka was standing in the doorway of the clubhouse, tying his shoes.
"Good aftemoon," said Encyclopedia.
"Scram," scowled Lloyd.
"I'm here investigating a stolen teddy bear," Encyclopedia said.
"You got nothing on me, copper; I've been tying my shoes all day." Encyclopedia was tempted to believe him. Lloyd was really stupid.
"Liar, liar, pants on fire, " Betsy screamed, "your nose is longer than a telephone wire! ! !"
"Shut up!" Lloyd retorted skillfully. He turned on Encyclopedia, his eyes flaring redder than a matador's cape. "What makes you think I stole this kid's stupid teddy bear, anyway."
"We don't." snapped Sally, who hadn't said anything in a while. "Bugs Meany stole the teddy bear. Either that or it ran away to join the circus."
"So go bug Bugs," said Lloyd, standing up, his shoes finally tied.
"We would," said Encyclopedia, "But Bugs is dead. It seems that he has been murdered. I believe that whoever murdered Bugs has the teddy bear."
"Get real, you half-pint Perry Mason," said Lloyd. "I told ya, I've been tying my shoes all day. Besides, I don't even own a 6.5mm Mannlicher-Carcano rifle, so I couldn't have done it Now beat it or I'll tell the Idaville Daily Press where your dad has been spending his nights."
"He's got us," said Sally, "and he has an air-tight alibi. We're wasting our time here. We might as well go look for another suspect."
Betsy started to cry. "I want my Teddy Bear now!"
"Don't Worry," said Sally. "Encyclopedia will find your bear."
"That's right," said Encyclopedia "And I don't have to go anywhere else to find it. That bear is probably right here in this clubhouse."
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